Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #12: Alarming Some Orcs

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes captured Tarifa, a halfling witch who had been spying on Spine Hollow for the Ghost Fist Clan. They delivered their prisoner to the settlement's druid leaders. The interrogation provided more information on the Ghost Fists and their leaders, and confirmed that this orc tribe worships the death god Asmolon.

After the party had a good long rest, they were called to speak with Razima again. She thanked the party for their deeds of the previous night, and informed them that Tarifa had provided more details on where Ilgash's secret hideout was located. Razima had recognized enough of the landmarks to give directions to Tailless, who would lead the party there to deal with the orcs. Spine Hollow's resources are very limited, but she asked if there was anything they could provide to help. Jumari requested healing potions, and the druids were able to supply two, as well as food and water.

Tailless said that it would take a little over a day to reach the cave, which was found in a branching ravine is some rocky badlands. Near the center of this ravine was the spring and a cave used by the orcs.

They traveled at night (with ample light from the moon, which was still full). Once Tailless informed them that they were only a couple hours' travel from the ravine, they decided to send scouts ahead while it was still dark, but to delay their attack on the hideout until daylight. Jumari and ZhaZha were aware that many of the desert's orc tribes have adapted to the daylight, so they could not count on bright light impairing their foes. However, the orcs would have a distinct advantage over most of the party at night, so they decided it would still be best to attack in daylight.

Jubair and Lucretia scouted ahead and found the ravine, while ZhaZha patroled on camel-back closer to the rest of the party. The rogue and monk entered the ravine, and reached the fork without problems, Here, they saw a spring trickling from the side of the ravine to form a small pool. They also saw a cave beyond it, and a single orc standing guard upon a rocky spire that gave a view of all three approaches. The sentry did not appear to be very attentive, however, and did not spot them.

Map of the ravine and hideout entrance. (Based on "BG-Desert-04," by gogot at Deviant Art.

They returned to the others, and Lucretia (who had some training in tactics) reported what they found, and started the discussion of how to best approach the orcs. The party agreed that they needed to lure the orcs out of their cave in order to kill them. They decided that a distraction was needed, so chose to split the party: ZhaZha would scout around to find the southern entrance to the ravine, and she and Tailless (riding her axebeak, Cluck) would enter from that direction. ZhaZha suggested they use the axebeak's cry as a signal that they were in position and ready to attack. In addition, Fatou send her owl familiar with the riders; she would know they were close (within a mile) when her empathic link reestablished itself.

The assault begins!
The group on foot entered the ravine, and reached the branch without being spotted by the sentry. They heard the jingling of (ZhaZha's) armor from the south. So did the sentry, who moved back out of sight. Seeing this, Jumari cast shield of faith upon herself in preparation for a fight. The sounds of this might have also alerted the guard.

Lucretia began climbing the shelves at the base of the spire in order to reach the sentry's previous position. She had some trouble getting purchase, until Jubair climbed up and gave her a boost.

Tailless had Cluck squawk a call, and rushed forward to the intersection. The cave was located in a nearby cul-de-sac, so Edel cast grease on the ground at the narrowest part of this passage.  Jumari cast expeditious retreat upon herself and rushed to the opposite side of the spire, where a rough ramp allowed the sentry to reach the bottom. The orc cast bane on the party, but only Edel was affected. Fatou then moved forward and cast sleep upon the sentry.

The trapped orcs on the defensive.
Jumari was able to dimly see at least one orc standing just inside the cave. She heaped insults upon the orcs, to which they answered by shooting at her. Another orc rushed out and moved to engage the inquisitor. ZhaZha and Tailless reached the scene and dismounted, because there was no room for their animals. The cavalier promptly moved in to flank the orc warrior--a barbarian, who was starting to rage. Meanwhile, Jubair sneak attacked the sleeping sentry to make sure he wouldn't wake up.

The orcs' leader attempted to cast sleep on Jumari and failed. Lucretia, who had moved to the top of the spire, shot this orc and took her down with a nasty critical hit. Jumari could faintly heard a shocked exclamation in Orcish about "Ilgash" going down, but then a masked, robed figure began tending to the fallen leader.

Two more orcs joined the fray outside--a lightly armored thug with a greatclub, and a warrior with scalemail and a scimitar. The orc barbarian struck ZhaZha hard with his falchion, but her return blow dropped him.

Jubair jumped down from the spire's ramp, and used some small ledges on the ravine wall near the cave to bypass the central melee in the cul-de-sac. The masked figure retreated into the cave, out of sight, so Jubair rushed into the cave to deal with it.

Edel cast a second grease spell, which toppled both of the orcs still standing outside. The greatclub wielder tried to stand but was cut down by attacks of opportunity. Jumair passed over the greased area, but stayed upright, and beheaded the barbarian.

Ilgash (with mohawk) returns to the fight.
At this point, Ilgash stood up once again, partially healed and angry. She tried to cast cause fear on Jumari, but failed. Lucretia shot her and Tailless stabbed her, finally dropping her for good. The masked person spotted Jubair next to him the cave, and cast a surprisingly feeble burning hands. Jubair took him down quickly after that.

This left no conscious foes on the field. The party checked the bodies to see if any survived. Two did--Ilgash herself, and the barbarian--so the heroes stabilized them to interrogate. The party then took some time to catch their breaths and search the bodies and the cave.

Edel detected no magic on the orcs beyond a single potion, but some of them had a masterwork weapon or armor.

The cave was big enough to fit a dozen or so filthy bedrolls, a few barrels (one holding water, one holding some unappetizing dried food, one holding spare javelins) and a large flat rock that looks like it was used to prepare food and such. They found a disguise kit near one of the bedrolls, and a small pouch of gold in another. Finally, a very long pole with a tattered banner (a crudely painted white fist) was propped against a wall near the entrance.
Last orc down.

The orcs: (front, L-R): sentry, Ilgash, barbarian;
(rear, L-R): warrior, thug, masked spellcaster.

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 15-16

My kids start school tomorrow, so to give myself one less thing to worry about then, I've decided to post tomorrow's question along with today's. And as you'll see, they're closely related questions.

My regular weekly blog will still be posted Wednesday or Thursday. This week's installment will feature a new "Time of the Tarrasque" session.

15th) Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Call of Cthulhu. Apart from trying one of the brief solo adventures back in college (when my roommate owned a copy), I have never played Call of Cthulhu using Chaosium's original BRP rules. I have, however, acquired a sizable CoC library, and have adapted it for use in other game systems: I ran a couple short GURPS campaigns using the rules in GURPS CthulhuPunk; I've co-written a short, silly LARP titled "Miskatonic Regional Elementary School"; and I've run three campaigns in Green Ronin's Freeport setting, which is steeped in Lovecraftian horror. I'm also partly responsible for the volume of Cthulhu Mythos elements that appeared in the long-time Buffy campaign I played in; my first character pitch was a essentially a Deep One hybrid, and the GM gleefully ran with it.

16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as-is?

That's a tough question, as I tend to make up my own material for almost every system that I play for any significant length of time. But at the moment, I'd have to say Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Most of my homebrewing efforts are currently dedicated to my Pathfinder campaign, so for now, I just use what's in the 5E core rulebooks and the canned adventures that I'm running. That's plenty good enough for my kids as they learn the system and I get more comfortable with running it.

(Of course, anyone who follows my blog knows that I'm interested in trying a Freeport 5E game someday, and that will involve a lot of conversion from previous editions. But for now, my answer stands.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 14

14th) Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Pathfinder and BESM Third Edition.

My current gaming group's game of choice is Pathfinder. I've used that system for my most recent Freeport campaign, and for my current "Time of the Tarrasque" game (which technically has a planned end point around 20th level or so, but it's going to take us a few years of game play to get there, and I have very little planned out between now and then).

I use BESM 3E for the solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife. That game is extremely open-ended, though after 10 years of play, I'm actively trying to work out a suitable climactic stopping place for us in the near(ish) future.

D&D 5E will probably end up taking BESM's place as one of my go-to games once I master the system a bit more. I'm currently running published 5E modules for my kids, since Tarrasque takes up so much of my "create new stuff" headspace.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 13

13th) Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

One of the game experiences that has most changed how I play didn't seem to be that profound at the time; it was just a matter of convenience. In my very first "Studded Plate" column (at BigBlueDie), I discussed the events that led to me adopting the use of LEGO minifigures instead of conventional miniatures. These days, I use LEGO minifigures and models as much as possible in my games, and I launched this blog in large part to share the tips and techniques that I've learned in the 15+ years since I made that change.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 12

12th) Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

I can't really decide between Blue Rose, Earthdawn, and Pathfinder.

Blue Rose, especially the Second Edition (for AGE), is packed full of beautiful art depicting the romantic fantasy genre. The AGE version also includes Stephanie Law's covers from the original True20 line, repurposed as two-page spreads at the beginning of the players' world, and GM's sections.

Earthdawn has a great deal of black and white interior art depicting the races, cultures, and creatures of Barsaive. The quality varies greatly, but taken as a whole, they convey the look and feel of the setting quite well. The first edition even had a few color plates of the races, famous sites, and other scenes.

And Pathfinder books almost always do a good job of depicting a wide diversity of people, creatures, and locations typical of a d20 fantasy setting. I'm especially fond of the Wayne Reynolds portraits and module covers that been repurposed as interior art in the Core Rulebook and elsewhere.

Friday, August 11, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 11

11th) Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

Big Eyes Small Mouth. When Guardians of Order folded due to financial troubles, the Third Edition of the game had not yet been printed. White Wolf finally published the book under their Arthaus imprint, but no support for the new edition was ever produced.

For the past decade, I've been using BESM 3E for "The Kynthiad," a solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife Erika. I would like to try it out in the context of another campaign (either as player or GM), but haven't had the opportunity yet. I considered BESM for my "Winds of Freeport" campaign before settling on D&D v.3.5. (You can see my preliminary conversion notes for that here.) If I ever return to my "Adventures of Arcadayn" setting, BESM is one of the systems that I would consider using instead of GURPS (and the wiki already has some partial conversion notes for BESM 3E).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Sunless Citadel #4: Goblin Boss Battle

Our heroes for The Sunless Citadel include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 2 (urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 2 (hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 2 (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC), male hill dwarf paladin 2 (knight)
  • Erky Timbers (NPC), gnome acolyte rescued by the party

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

Last time, the heroes used the key they received from the kobolds to pass through the dragon door, and discovered the long-closed tomb of a cursed priest of the dragon cult who originally built the citadel. They cleared that section of the dungeon, and still had enough resources to explore elsewhere without a long rest.

Now that the party included Erky, who could turn undead, they had the means to pass through a magical, trapped door they had found along the way to the goblins' territory. To do so, they needed to pass through the kobolds' chambers again. When they reached Meepo's room, they found the dragon keeper busy refurbishing Calcryx's room with the help of other members of his tribe. The kobolds were repairing the broken cage, and Meepo had somehow acquired some piecemeal protective gear (gauntlets, boots, a thick apron, etc.). The dragon was nowhere in sight, but one of the doors out of this room was barricaded. Meepo greeted the adventurers warmly, and inquired about their business. The PCs explained that they were returning to the tunnels to the north, which pleased the kobolds because it meant more trouble for the hated goblins.

The party traveled to the locked door and Erky was able to open it with his channeling power. Inside were five upright sarcophagi and an obsidian altar. Upon the altar were a lit candle, a crystal whistle, and a crystal flask. Recalling the trap on the door that Dain had found the hard way, the heroes entered the room slowly and carefully, while Erky stayed by the door to make sure it didn't close behind them.

When Dain neared the altar, he could see that the whistle was etched with the name "Night Caller" in Dwarvish runes. Xuri recalled tales of the duergar making such items, which were used to animate the dead. Dain sensed the unholiness of the thing, and smashed it with his warhammer. When he did this, five skeletons emerged from the sarcophagi and attacked. Thanks to Xuri's breath weapon, Raven Flare's sneak attack, and Dain's divine smite, the undead were quickly dispatched, though most of the heroes took wounds. 

The candle proved to be enchanted with continual light, which Erky was glad to carry, being an acolyte of the sun god Pelor. The flask contained a potion of fire resistance. Raven found a secret door in the altar that contained a coffer with a half-dozen peridots carved into dragons; these were promptly divided among the party, with the dragonborn claiming the extra against her share of other treasure. [I foresee these being the party's most cherished treasure from this adventure, despite being worth only 10 gp each.]

The party then explored a corridor to the north that they had passed by before. This hallway had six doors that were all ajar, leading to small cells. The group's lights attracted the attention of three giant rats, which the adventurers slew with little effort. The rats' nests held a scattering of coins and a few tiny gems. 

At the end of the hall was a larger room with a dry fountain featuring a sculpted dragon waterspout. There were also two pit traps here, spiked open, in front of the two exits from the room. Xuri made the mistake of reading aloud the Draconic inscription on the edge of the fountains's basin, which triggered a poison gas trap; she bore the brunt of the spray, and was quite ill for several minutes. 

The big mama rat (on 2x3 plate) falls into the hole.
The party waited until she had recovered before Kalitni climbed along the wall over a pit to open the door leading out of the room. In the room beyond, she spotted four giants rats, who were ready to pounce. One of them was enormous--the size of a human. The ranger and rogue shot the big rat, who climbed out and bit Kalitni. [The ranger easily saved against the disease the rat carried.] The other rats spread out around the pit's edges. Kalitni stabbed the big rat, who fell dead into the 20-foot-deep pit. The other rats were soon killed and thrown into the pit after it.

The rats' room was a thoroughly filthy, disgusting mess. The party found four chewed corpses: a kobold, two goblins, and a human. A gold ring with the name "Karakas" identified the human as one of the missing adventurers the heroes sought. They removed the kobold and human bodies from the room, and retreated to the sarcophagus room for a long rest. First, however, they returned the kobold's body to its tribe, and decided to leave Karakas's in the magically locked room until they were able to carry him back to town. 

After resting, the party once more entered the goblins' territory. The goblins had not yet replaced the alarm bell or first stone barricade, or manned that room. However, the second watch post had replacement guards, and the short folk had stacked stones and barrels to improvise a new barrier. Raven Flare used her stealth and speed to lead a rush on the wall. Two goblins fell before they could react, and the third fled. Raven chased it while Dain took another path to cut it off, but Xuri's cantrip brought it down before it reached him.

The party regrouped in the long columned hallway that led further into the goblins' lair. The rogue heard the noises of a large group beyond the door at the end of this hall, and Dain scouted a side passage that seemed to lead to another entrance to that noisy space. That passage also led to a door in a section of curved wall, which the party guessed was part of a tower. This seemed promising of something important.

First, the adventurers checked the other door out of the hall. This led to another goblin guard room, but the party caught them by surprise and finished them off quickly. Beyond that room were more corridors, where the party detected a covered pit trap. Dain's stonecunning told him that this hall was very near the kobolds' chambers, so they guessed that this pit served as a defense from both directions. The heroes felt no desire to meet with the kobolds again right now, so returned to the tower door. [There was a suggestion that after the party deals with the goblins, they let Calcryx loose to finish off the kobolds, since it hastes them as much as it does the heroes.]

Kalitni listened at the door, and could hear voices speaking Goblin. The voices were pitched lower than goblins, which told her that there must be hobgoblins in that room. (Goblins are her favored enemy, so she knows quite a bit about goblinoids.) Erky blessed the paladin, ranger, and rogue, then Dain kicked in the door. 

The large, domed room held a deep shaft in its center, surrounded by a low wall that was covered with pale, sickly-looking vines growing up from below, where a dim violet light emanated. To one side of the room was a hobgoblin dressed in splint armor, seated on a makeshift stone throne, feet propped on an iron chest. Standing near him were three more hobgoblins, and a female goblin dressed in a robe stained with noxious colors. A dead sapling stood in a pot near the throne as well. The leader and goblin were surprised by the party's sudden entry, but the hobgoblins reacted quickly. 

Dain charged the goblinoids, and Raven soon followed, engaging the two closest hobgoblins. Kalitni, Xuri, and Erky moved to take shots at the leader from across the shaft; Kalitni badly wounded her target but the spellcasters missed. The third hobgoblin went the other way around the shaft to menace Xuri, while the goblin--a shaman--cast bane on the paladin and ranger. 

Dain suffered a serious wound from the hobgoblins' skilled teamwork, but then downed one of them. He pressed on closer to the leader, but then the sapling revealed itself to be a disguised creature and (feebly) scratched at him. Raven tried to shove the other hobgoblin into the shaft, but her first couple of attempts failed.

Kalitni's arrows and hunter's mark downed the leader before he could land a hit on anyone. At this point, the goblin shaman closed with Xuri and knocked her out with an inflict wounds spell. Erky was at the sorcerer's side in an instant, and healed her. Xuri, enraged now, blasted the goblin and the nearest hobgoblin with thunderwave, pushing them both away from her--and the goblin was flung straight down the shaft! Kalitni shot the battered hobgoblin dead. 

Raven Flare finally succeeded in shoving her foe, who tumbled over the wall and down the shaft. Dain smashed the plant monster (a twig blight) and its pot. With the battle over, the heroes turned to the business of tending their wounds and searching the room.

Two views of the final boss fight: hobgoblins (Uruk-Hai minifigures), hobgoblin chief (Uruk with samurai gear), goblin shaman, and twig blight.

The leader wore splint armor and a gold ring, both decorated with the Hucrele family crest; these items belonged to one of the missing adventurers the party sought. Erky had already informed his rescuers that the Hucrele siblings and Sir Braford had been sent to Belak, who dwelt below. Raven Flare easily defeated the trap and lock on the chest, and found a stash of gold and gems. 

While the others were busy, Xuri remained near the second door in this room, which almost certainly led to the same space with the sounds of activity to the south. Despite the deafening boom her last spell had produced, no goblins entered this room to investigate. Eventually, she heard hushed whispers beyond the door, and alerted the others. The party lined up at the southern door, and Dain opened it.

This very large room had once been a cathedral, but was now the messy home of around three dozen goblins. Most of them huddled near an exit on the far side of the room, but four warriors stood next to the door the dwarf had just opened. Raven Flare used her thaumaturgy cantrip to cause a tremor, and flourished the bloody head of the hobgoblin chief, impaled upon his own sword, as Dain bellowed, "Flee before the mighty warriors who have defeated your leader. Behold the evidence if our destruction of your people, and flee!" This caused the majority of the goblins to stampede for the exit, crushing one another in their haste. The four warriors were shaking as they backed away, but they kept themselves between the heroes and their own people, and were the last to leave. The party let the goblins flee, then Raven dropped the head. (Some of the PCs realized that the only way for the goblins to escape was to go through the kobolds--but felt a supreme lack of concern about either side.)

[Raven's stunt was blatant stealing of a tactic I had told the kids about from when Erika and I had played Lost Mine of Phandelver. My tiefling warlock had done this with the bugbear's head in the Cragmaw Hideout, but had done the "Flee or die!" speech herself, with a cantrip-enhanced booming voice. Still, it was effective, so I gave Dain advantage on the Intimidate check, which gave him a result of 23 with a natural 20!]

Xuri cleaned up the Hucrele armor while the others searched the goblin common room. Among the refuse, they found some toolkits, a small statue of an elf god, and a Medium chain shirt. After checking an adjoining room (now empty of any goblins), they decided to take a long rest before going below to deal with the druid Belak. 


The party has now completely explored the first level of The Sunless Citadel apart from a few rooms in the kobolds' territory. After tallying the sizable XP award for this session, and dividing by 5 because Erky is with them, they ended up 63 XP short of they needed for 3rd level. It makes much more sense to have them level up now rather than trying to do it in the middle of exploring the lower level, so I went ahead and gave them that extra 63 XP they needed. Reaching 3rd level means that all the heroes have now achieved the start of their subclasses.  

We have decided that Erky will continue as a full member of the party, so I have converted him to a standard cleric going forward. He was a 1st-level spellcaster as an acolyte, so I simply calculated how many XP the other PCs have received since rescuing him and awarded him that. He ended up a couple hundred short of 3rd level, so will be a 2nd-level cleric next session.

The updated party now consists of:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin; urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master; hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (player-run NPC), male hill dwarf paladin 2 (oath of devotion; knight)
  • Erky Timbers (GM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 2 (life domain; acolyte)
We still need to work out when and how Kalitni's animal companion (she has chosen a wolf) will be introduced. I'll probably invent a brief role-playing encounter for it before they descend the shaft to the next level.

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 9-10

(My answer for Day 10 is very short, so I've added it to this post instead of doing it separately tomorrow.)

9th) What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Most RPGs are well suited to a story arc that takes about 10 sessions. For a Buffy or Angel game, 10 episodes is just about right for a first season, or a stand-alone "mini-series." A longish published d20 adventure can often take about 10 sessions, and can allow the party to level a couple of times, depending on the scenario.

BESM (any edition) and Fate Accelerated Edition are good choices for more rule-light games in this time-frame. My first experience running BESM was a fantasy mini-campaign using Second Edition. I could have easily stretched that game to 10 sessions, but we reached a perfectly satisfactory resolution after five somewhat-longer-than-usual sessions.

The FAE game that I mentioned yesterday made it to 8 sessions before scheduling issues sidelined it; just a couple more sessions could have given it the proper closure it needed.

10th) Where do you go for RPG reviews?

My answers to this are pretty much the same as to Day 3's question (How do you find out about new RPGs?).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 8

8th) What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hrs or less?

Two hours or less is far too short a time for most of the RPG systems I've played. Most of them have complex enough rules that encounters take some time to resolve, especially if combat is involved. The most successful games that I've played in such a short period have been very simple one-shot LARPs, which had extremely minimalist rules and fairly straightforward plots. One of my personal favorites is "Miskatonic Regional Elementary School," which I helped write at an Intercon Build Your Own Game workshop many years ago--and which is my first priority to rewrite if and when I ever get back into LARP.

Fate Accelerated Edition is one of the few systems I know that has light enough rules to fit a satisfactory length session into only a couple hours. When I played in a Do: Fate of the Flying Temple game last year, most of those sessions were about 2-3 hours long.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 7

7th) What was your most impactful RPG session?

I'm not entirely sure what the folks at RPG Brigade mean by "impactful" here, so I'm going to interpret that very loosely as "What RPG session had the most dramatic effect on you or your character?"

The first answer that comes to mind actually involves two of the innumerable online role-playing threads that my Buffy/Angel group did between regular tabletop sessions. (This is the same campaign that I mentioned on Day 1.)

The original campaign spawned a spinoff series, in which I played Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, the younger cousin of my hero from the main series. Trick was a normal human who found out that her new best friend was a Slayer. She promptly put her skills as a fencer to help Candace train and hunt demons. Years of dedication to her sport made Trick roughly Candace's equal with a sword, but she lacked a Slayer's strength and stamina. This frustrated her to no end, so when she was given an opportunity to become a Maenad, a champion of the god Dionysus, she jumped at the chance without hesitation. At first, she was thrilled with her new abilities, and even agreed to a further initiation for additional tantric powers. However, Trick was always a bit of a wild child, and becoming a Maenad exacerbated those flaws of character--and worse, she used her new status as an excuse for her own bad behavior. As a result, her relationships with her friends and family suffered--and when she realized just how much of a narcissistic bastard Dionysus really was, that relationship quickly went south, too.

Dionysus wasn't the only god who had interests in Shadowgard, and wasn't even the first one Trick met. The Raven Totem, who went by the name Jonathan Poe in his guise as a local nightclub owner, had been introduced early on as a trickster ally to the local heroes. He and Trick appreciated each other's quirky senses of humor, so had hit it off well from the start. In fact, Poe would have likely chosen her as his champion in Shadowgard if he hadn't already empowered one of the other series' heroes before meeting her. And by the time that Totem Warrior died in battle, creating a vacancy, Trick had entered Dionysus's service. Still, they remained good friends--and that relationship was one of the few that Trick didn't wreck as her life got more and more miserable.

Now we get to the episodes that had the most impact on Trick's career.

As a trickster god, Poe had some limited power to change reality temporarily--for the space of a single day--which he occasionally used as a prank that taught the recipient a lesson. (Body swaps and sex changes were some of his favorites.) He took pity on Trick's predicament, and tried to change reality so that he had actually claimed her as champion before Dionysus could. This stunt backfired dramatically--Trick ended up as a bisexual male champion of Puck (another trickster she had encountered in the past, and was on decent terms with). Trick immediately tracked down Poe at his club to demand an explanation, then after he gave it, she really let him have a piece of her mind. However, Poe couldn't undo the change without Puck's assent, so Trick had to negotiate with the fairy to release her. She had discovered during her tantrum at Poe that his regard for her had left him very sensitive to her moods, to the point of this whole fiasco (and her reaction to it) leaving him with a galloping migraine. Trick managed to quite politely and cleverly persuade Puck that he didn't really want to have her mad at him, too, and the spell was undone: She was a Maenad again.

Trick's success at extricating herself from that mess gave her the confidence to confront Dionysus and tell him that she was through being his champion. The god replied, with infuriating smugness, that she had no choice in the matter--she's drunk his wine, so she was a Maenad. Trick snapped, drew the sword that Dionysus had given her when she became his champion a year before, and lunged for him--she preferred to die, if need be, rather than serve him any longer.  Dionysus simply vanished and reappeared a short distance away, but her sheer audacity in attacking him had impressed him--it reminded him of the old fighting spirit that had drawn him to her in the first place. He relented, giving her a choice in order to be rid of her Maenad's blood--either drink his wine again to burn it away, or bleed it away with a knife. For Trick, the wine embodied her of all her bad choices over the past year. Besides, she was a warrior at heart, so she chose the blade. She had intended to make a shallow cut, but the wound bled far more profusely than she expected, and she soon passed out. When she came to, the god was gone; she was alone in the woods, and dangerously weak from blood loss. She was also deliriously happy to no longer answer to a god. When some of the local demons stumbled across her in this state, she actually started laughing uncontrollably. (Fortunately, another local spirit ally chased them off and got her safely out of the woods.)

Trick would soon find out that she wasn't completely free of all the effects of her time as a Maenad. Being connected to the mystical world always leaves a mark, and she started having psychic visions. Because she was merely human now, they took a physical toll on her. (Compare Cordelia after she received Doyle's parting gift on Angel.) But how Trick dealt with that new problem is another story...

Trick Tillinghast, by Tim Emrick (2006)

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 6

6th) You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

The closest I've ever come to gaming every day for a week was attending GenCon in 2011. Playing for a full week would probably require me to game in my hometown, so I'll answer with that in mind.

I'd run a session of my "Time of the TarrasquePathfinder campaign, and run another D&D 5E session for my kids--preferably with a few days off from GMing in between!

I'd try to persuade Erika to run more of her Earthdawn campaign, and see if my daughter is finally ready to try running the One Dice Raptors RPG that we gave her last year.

And if I could find people to run them for me, I'd try out Blue Rose AGEGURPS 4E, Spaceship Zero, and maybe some flavor of Star Wars game (or Starfinder, which I will have an opportunity to try out Very Soon Now[tm]). Playing some Pathfinder and 5E that I didn't have to run myself would be nice, too.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 5

5th) Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Most of the covers for the Pathfinder RPG, but especially the Core Rulebook and Advanced Race Guide, which feature action shots of the game's core activity: adventurers battling monsters in their lairs. Wayne Reynolds has produced the cover art for almost every Pathfinder hardcover, and his distinctive style gives the brand a memorable look.

I'm also a great fan of his covers for Green Ronin's Freeport setting, which is where I first saw his work. Tales of Freeport is one of my early favorites. (I want to make a costume of that serpent person someday!) However, his latest piece for the series, for Freeport: City of Adventure, best captures the spirit of that setting, and may be my personal favorite of all the RPG covers I own.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 4

4th) Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

Pathfinder. In August 2016, I wrapped up my most recent Freeport campaign (which started in v.3.5 and was converted to Pathfinder halfway through) and started trying out Pathfinder Society (Paizo's organized play program). I also started my new Pathfinder campaign, "Time of the Tarrasque," in January 2017.

The runner-ups would be D&D Fifth Edition (which I've been running for my kids) and BESM Third Edition (which I use for "The Kynthiad," the solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife).

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 3

3rd) How do you find out about new RPGs?
  1. Publishers: I follow a handful of my favorite publishers (such as Green Ronin) through their company websites and social media, so I see their announcements about upcoming releases and Kickstarters. (In the case of Green Ronin, this is how I learned about Spaceship ZeroA Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, both editions of Blue Rose, and Fantasy AGE, among others.)
  2. Podcasts: I follow the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast, so I hear about the projects they're working on, as well as games that are advertised during the podcast. (I regret not having the disposable cash to back Robin Laws' Yellow King RPG, which recently concluded its Kickstarter.)
  3. Game-related forums: I'm active on a few gaming forums, and members frequently post about newly announced or released games. (For example, a member of The Piazza posted some very nice previews and reviews of the Tails of Equestria RPG, which have made me consider buying it for my kids.)
  4. Friends: I have a lot of gamer friends, who share links about new games on social media, and talk up new games in person, too. (One of the players in my regular gaming group backed the Pugmire Kickstarter, and is eager to try it out.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Plane Shift and Freeport 5E

In order to promote their The Art of Magic: The Gathering books, Wizards of the Coast has released a series of Plane Shift articles as free PDFs. Each art book provides background and adventure hooks for one of the planes of the Magic multiverse, while the Plane Shift articles provide the mechanics needed to adapt it as a setting for the D&D Fifth Edition game. Four planes have have been detailed so far: Zendikar, Innistrad, Kaladesh, and Amonkhet.

I do not own any of the art books, and have not played Magic in several years. For these reasons, I've decided to review the Plane Shift articles in much the same way that I treated the new material presented in "Unearthed Arcana," by discussing how they could be used in conjunction with Green Ronin's Freeport: The City of Adventure setting.

Plane Shift: Zendikar 

Zendikar was strongly influenced by D&D, so this plane feels very much like a typical D&D campaign setting. The plane has few large settlements, which may require a bit of a stretch to use it as Freeport's native plane, but the existence of ruins from multiple ancient civilization does fit the City of Adventure's aesthetic.

Races of Zendikar include humans, kor (a humanoid race skilled at climbing and white magic), merfolk, vampires (who are diseased humanoids rather than undead), goblins, and elves. This world's two-legged merfolk are more comfortable on land than the fish-tailed D&D race, which makes them imminently suited as PCs in Freeport. Similarly, Zendikar's goblins work quite well for the smaller inhabitants of Bloodsalt, and this plane's elves are very similar to standard D&D elves.

The Bestiary's discussion of the Eldrazi and their minions can provide numerous ideas for eldritch horrors inspired by Lovecraft's mythos.

Plane Shift: Innistrad 

Innistrad is a realm immersed in Gothic horror. This makes it very similar in feel to Curse of Strahd, and in fact, this article provides suggestions for setting that adventure in Innistrad.

Most PCs are humans, so provincial traits are used to provide the diversity usually gained from having multiple races. In the World of Freeport, these traits could be used as models for new human "subraces" based on various nations of the Continent.

The inquisitor background is perfectly suited to characters associated with the World of Freeport's Hexworth Inquisition.

In general, Plane Shift: Innistrad is most useful as a source of ideas for isolated Gothic tropes, for a campaign where an entire region has descended into horror or madness, or to flesh out a more sinister reflection of Freeport in another plane (such as the Shadow Plane, or Freetown in Hell in Freeport). "The Creatures of Innistrad" section provides many ideas for giving more variety to standard horror monsters, such as werewolves and vampires. "The Coming of Emrakul" might be used as an example of the effects of a Great Old One (like the Unspeakable One) manifesting within a plane.

Plane Shift: Kaladesh 

Kaladesh is essentially a magical steampunk setting, where the substance of aether is used to power all kinds of intricate devices. Freeport is a far more desperate, dark place than bright, optimistic Kaladesh, but elements of the latter setting can be found in the City of Adventure. In particular, clockwork and constructs have appeared in Freeport adventures ("The Ironjack Legacy" is the latest example).

The pyromancer sorcerous origin easily fits into the World of Freeport, and would be most common among the efreet-blooded azhar.

Races of Kaladesh include the aetherborn (short-lived byproducts of the aether-refining process), dwarves, elves, humans, and vedalken (experts on aether lore and technology). The airship-flying dwarves from the "Death From Above?" plot seed (in Tales of Freeport) could easily be visitors from Kaladesh.

Plane Shift: Amonkhet 

Amonkhet shares its ancient Egyptian inspiration with Green Ronin's Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra, but the two settings are not very compatible as written. Hamunaptra is a fantasy land closely based on real-world ancient Egyptian mythology and culture, with the addition of D&D races. In constrast, Amonkhet has a much smaller pantheon, and a single story or theme (the five trials, and the sinister secrets behind them) that dominates all adventures set there. However, individual elements of Amonkhet can be useful in helping to convert Hamunaptra to a D&D Fifth Edition campaign set in the World of Freeport.

The three new backgrounds (initiate, vizier, and dissenter) are too closely tied to the Amonkhet storyline to be easily adapted to other settings. It would be much simpler for characters with religious training to use the more generic acolyte background from the Player's Handbook.

Races of Amonkhet include humans, avens (bird-headed flying humanoids), khenra (jackal-headed humanoids), minotaurs, and nagas. Khenra can be used to represent the jackal-headed gnolls of Hamunaptra. Avens, minotaurs, and nagas could easily fit into that setting as uncommon races created by other gods who lacked the wide-ranging influence of the more numerous core races' patrons. Nagas could also find a home among the Naga Cult of Naranjan (detailed in Green Ronin's Mindshadows setting) or be used as a subrace of serpent people anywhere in he World of Freeport.

This document also provides four new cleric domains (Solidarity, Strength, Ambition, and Zeal) that could easily be assigned to gods in other settings. For example, the cobra god Rhonas's Strength domain would work well for the more warlike factions among Yig's followers, while the cult priests of an archdevil might gain access to the Ambition domain.

The Bestiary provides a few new monsters that are perfectly suited to adventures in Hamunptra: the criosphinx, the heart-piercer manticore, and the serpopard. (This section also has useful notes for reskinning an elephant to create a hippopotamus.)

Finally, this fourth Plane Shift article includes an appendix about how to model Planeswalkers in D&D.


The "Coils of Yig" cosmology of Freeport assumes contact with a wide variety of different planes (see the "Beyond Freeport" chapter in Freeport: The City of Adventure). The Magic: The Gathering multiverse can provide inspiration for some of these new worlds. None of the first four featured planes makes an ideal home plane for Freeport itself, but all of them provide material that can be mined to enrich any Freeport campaign.


For ease of reference, I've compiled a list of all my previous columns discussing running D&D Fifth Edition games set in Freeport.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 2

2nd) What is an RPG you would like to see published?

LARP rules for Freeport: The City of Adventure.

Once upon a time, I toyed with the idea of writing a Freeport LARP, but never got very far with it except to drop Green Ronin a line asking if it would be OK for me to do such a thing (not for profit, obviously).

I haven't LARPed in years, but hope to get back into it someday. I have a couple ideas for non-Freeport LARPs to get myself back in practice writing for that style of play. Then maybe someday I'll have sufficient inspiration to tackle a LARP scenario set in Freeport. Besides needing to cater to a larger group than your typical small band of adventurers, I'd also need to find or devise rules that properly reflect the feel of the setting, and its D&D origins. I own Freeport Companions for d20, True20, Pathfinder, and Fate, so I don't lack for rules to choose from--but adapting any of them to the rules-light demands of a LARP would still be a challenge.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 1

It's August, which means it's time for #RPGaDay, all month long. These short Q&A posts will be in addition to my regular weekly content columns.

1st) What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. These two Cinematic Unisystem rules sets and their settings were used for one of the longest and most enjoyable RPG campaigns that I've played in. I joined the game in late 2004, it continued until 2009, and then had a short revival as a forum-based game in 2012-2014. The game was shelved for good before the last big plotlines were resolved. I no longer live in the same state as the two co-GMs and other players, but I would love to be able to continue the game in order to find some better closure for my two main PCs.

I've written about one of those two Buffy characters, Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, in some past columns of this blog: